Tourism Review

Indiana's state bird, the cardinal, is shown.

Ah, the joys of bird watching. If you're like me, you receive special satisfaction from attracting birds to your backyard or garden. However, if you have never participated in this hobby, you may want to try it now, especially since La Porte County is part of a major migratory flyway.

Kenneth Brock, author of "Birds of the Indiana Dunes", describes this flyway as a "Funnel Effect", especially during the autumn migration. However, during northbound migrations, you may see many small songbirds in the parks and on the shores of Lake Michigan and other inland lakes.

Two friends from the Potawatomi Audubon Society, Vice President Penny Lombard and Treasurer Susan Bagby, stopped by the other day for a chat. They said local people may want to get ready now for spring because many bird species just come in for a day or two, fuel up, rest and leave for points north, although some migrants stay all summer. The principal spring migration months are March, April and May.

"The Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up February 13 through 16," Lombard said. "I hope that everyone will count at least 15 birds each day and enter the data into this website, www.birdcount.org.  You can count at your feeders, from an observation at a park or while out for a walk.  After you enter the data, you can view what others have seen in the community, in the state or in the entire country. It is easy to do and fun for the entire family."

There are 12 different trails throughout the county. If anyone would like to help monitor one of the many trails within La Porte County or start their own bluebird trail, you can contact the society through their website. www.potawatomiaudubon.org

"We are always available to bring awareness or talk to a variety of different groups throughout the county," Bagby said. "We talk about nest programs, wild flowers and butterflies. We are especially concerned about the Monarch butterfly because they need the common milkweed plant to eat. Milkweed is considered a weed and is being destroyed because most people don't realize the significance of this plant. We would like to see people planting more natural habitats, especially milkweed".

If you wish to get more involved with our local Audubon Society, you are invited to attend these programs and meetings:

• Wednesday Walks through May: March 25, 9 a.m., first Wednesday Walk of the year, Kingsbury Fish and Wildlife Area; April 8, 9 a.m., Bluhm County Park, near Westville.

• Potawatomi Audubon Meetings through May: Thursday, April 16, 6 p.m., meeting room, Michigan City Public Library; Thursday, May 21, 6 p.m., meeting room, Michigan City Public Library.

Now it is time to take the next step in bird watching, where you'll leave your home and visit other locations in order to experience an even larger variety of wild birds. Here are some suggestions for excellent bird watching near you.

The La Porte Lakes lie immediately northwest of downtown LaPorte. They represent one of the best locations in the state for observing loons, grebes, and ducks during spring and fall migrations. This is especially true during inclement weather when birding is most comfortably done from inside a car.

Michigan City Harbor (MCH) is a well-known lakefront birding site. The harbor, with its beaches, piers, yacht basin, and breakwaters is almost certainly the best site on the lakefront for viewing Lake Michigan birds. A full 40 percent of the rare and accidental species on the Indiana state checklist were documented at MCH, arguably making it the state's premiere birding site.

The beaches and waters of MCH are regular for loons, grebes, diving ducks, gulls, terns and shorebirds. The sparse vegetation of Washington Park's wooded area is well-suited for viewing migrant passerines during periods of heavy flight. These birds most commonly include thrushes, wrens, vireos, warblers and sparrows.

The Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area is an important bird area located just south of La Porte County and can be reached by traveling south on Hwy. 421. This 30,000-plus acres IBA (Important Bird Area) includes various public and privately-owned properties. The core of the site is the state-owned Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area (approximately 8,000 acres), which is renowned in the Midwest for its large migratory congregations of Greater Sandhill Cranes.

Jasper-Pulaski hosts large congregations of Greater Sandhill Cranes during their northbound migration. Greater Sandhill Cranes can be seen from February through late March. Crane numbers peak in mid-February to early March. Magnificent, noisy flocks are usually seen during mid-morning to mid-afternoon. The cranes socialize in pastures and open fields for a while after sunrise and just before sunset. The Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area is one of the best viewing areas for Sandhills. If you don't want to travel to Jasper-Pulaski you can usually observe Cranes in South La Porte County along the Kankakee River.

There are many reasons to participate in the bird watching in La Porte County; however the main reason is that you'll gain a better understanding of these creatures and the diversity of our County.

La Porte County CVB Community Relations Manager Jane Daley can be contacted at 872-5055 or jane@michigancitylaporte.com.

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